Solidarity, Communication, and Compassion: Library Associations in Times of War
22 April 2022
To face and overcome disaster, resilience is essential. And at the heart of resilience are cooperation, solidarity, communication, and compassion.
Library Associations enable such cooperation at the international, regional, and national levels. Especially in times of war, this framework can become a channel through which hardship can be faced more effectively, together.
Since February 2022, Library Associations have exemplified this in response to the war in Ukraine. From the Ukrainian Library Association amplifying the voices of Ukrainian librarians, to the solidarity and support offered by Library Associations from across Europe and beyond – the message is clear:
For the library profession, the importance of sharing information, serving their communities, and cooperating with colleagues from around the world are not minimised in times of crisis – they are strengthened.
The Ukrainian Library Association
Since the very early days of the war, the Ukrainian Library Association (ULA) has spoken to the critical role of libraries in times of conflict.
From the statement of the ULA on 23 February, 2022:
Libraries are educational spaces where everyone has the opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills. Librarians teach and help hundreds of thousands of people every day to master the skills to live in the digital world and have a safe cyberspace for themselves and their loved ones… Libraries are places of security and freedom, where everyone who needs it will have free access to information, the Internet, psychological support, and help in solving their life difficulties.
Libraries are places of power where people find themselves. In daily communication, librarians do their best to make everyone who comes to the library love books, love their language, love Ukraine. [Source].
The words of the ULA inspired a global response – with many remarking on the resilience and bravery of Ukrainian librarians being amplified through the ULA’s words.
Following this first statement, the ULA has been active in advocating for Ukrainian librarians and acting as a key link to enable international information sharing.
Fund Raising for Ukrainian Librarians
The war has displaced millions of people across Ukraine, with many losing their jobs, their homes, and their access to resources.
The ULA and the Library Country Charitable Foundation have therefore created a fund to provide financial assistance to librarians who are facing difficult circumstances.
The ULA reports that these funds will be used to support librarians from regions where active hostilities are taking place. Support can take the form of temporary rent and purchase of necessities like medicine, clothes, and food.
Donations are accepted in local and international currency via bank transfer.
Find out more about the fund here: Financial assistance to Ukrainian librarians.
In addition to providing access to information through print and digital resources, libraries across Ukraine hold collections which are testaments to the language, history, creativity, and cultural expressions that make up the country’s cultural identity. Many institutions also hold collections of documentary heritage from around the world and across the ages.
As hostilities continue, it is therefore critical to gather information on libraries that are damaged or destroyed. In this, the work of the ULA and the Library Country Charitable Foundation has been indispensable.
The two organisations have begun mapping the damage to libraries in the country by crowdsourcing information from library professionals in their network. A Google Form is being circulated with a request for any information that is possible for users to collect. This includes descriptions of damage to the building, collections, and/or equipment, as well as photos and videos.
In times of disaster, information is critical. This effort has helped build a general understanding of the damage that has occurred across various regions of the country. This information will help inform next steps, such as further damage assessment and recovery efforts, when that becomes a possibility.
See the website of the ULA for more information: Damage to cultural heritage in Ukraine.
Enabling International Information Sharing
In times of disaster, IFLA works to ensure that library perspectives are heard and are being included in international responses through our relationships with key partners such as UNESCO and Blue Shield International.
IFLA has been liaising with the ULA to ensure that libraries and library professionals are at the table for international discussions on the safeguarding of cultural heritage sites, monuments, and museums. Oksana Bruy, President of the Ukrainian Library Association, joined a high-level meeting convened by UNESCO in March 2022, to share the perspective of the Ukrainian library field with UNESCO and a range of cultural stakeholders. Further, reports on damage to libraries have been shared with key contacts at UNESCO working to map damage to cultural heritage.
These interventions have helped inform UNESCO’s action plan and ensure that the critical need to support Ukrainian libraries is being recognised at the international level.
Collecting and Safeguarding Information
Ukrainian librarians have affirmed the importance of access to information in the face of disinformation and censorship. The ULA has therefore launched an appeal for librarians to join together to archive documentation and records of the war, safeguarding primary-source material for the future.
In the words of the ULA, “We are Librarians, and we have to do our direct library work, our mission” [source].
The ULA is working to provide a shared server, in which a common methodology can be utilised to compile and archive this documentation.
Find out more about this effort here: Archiving the War in Ukraine
Ukrainian libraries have not been alone in their response. From early days, library associations from around the world have offered messages of solidarity, support, and aid.
Library associations from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Poland, and many more from across Europe and beyond have been actively amplifying statements, updates, and appeals from Ukrainian colleagues.
They have also been using their communications channels to share stories of how libraries in their countries are supporting Ukrainian colleagues and refugees.
Libraries for Ukraine
The European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Association (EBLIDA), the NAPLE Forum, and Public Libraries 2030 have joined together to encourage libraries to offer warm, welcoming, and safe places for all – as is central to their mission.
They call on libraries to welcome Ukrainian refugees – offering access to information and education, and to do so in cooperation with other refugee-centred organisations.
This call is supported through a dedicated online platform: Libraries for Ukraine.
One useful feature of this platform is the emphasis on story and experience sharing. Participating institutions from across Europe share their actions on a dedicated How to Help page, which shares examples of actions on which future efforts can be modelled.
Similarly, the Polish Information Society Development Foundation have launched Libraries for Ukraine to help libraries support Ukrainian refugee populations. This platform offers practical information on immediate needs, as well information on legal provisions, educational material, books in Ukrainian language, and links to useful technology tools.
Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage
Although not strictly a library association, it is important to highlight the Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Organisation (SUCHO), which has emerged as an inspiring example of volunteerism on the part of the library and information profession.
SUCHO is made up of over 1,300 cultural heritage professionals, including librarians, archivists, researchers, and programmers. They work together to find and archive at-risk digital content and data from Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions, using multiple technologies to crawl and archive sites and content.
SUCHO reports to have so far “saved more than 30TB of scanned documents, artworks and many other digital materials from 3,500+ websites of Ukrainian museums, libraries and archives.”
For those that are interested in taking part, they are accepting volunteers on a stand-by list to support future efforts, as well as financial contributions.
Learn more here: sucho.org
The outpouring of support from across the library profession has been a light spot in what is otherwise a deeply painful time.
In the face of unspeakable hardship, library professionals remain dedicated to their mission of serving communities, safeguarding cultural heritage, and enabling access to reliable information for all.
IFLA continues to liaise with our members in Ukraine as well as our partners at the international level to provide assistance and support where possible.